Even under the best circumstances, the teenage years are tough for parents and teens alike. The rapid changes to their bodies and brains make it difficult for teens to practice self-control, making them more likely to engage in risky behavior. Testing their boundaries and exploring the world around them leaves teens vulnerable to all kinds of dangers.
No, raising teenagers isn’t easy. Raising troubled teens is even more difficult. Research shows that every 24 hours, more than 1,400 American teens attempt suicide. In that same amount of time, more than 15,000 try drugs for the first time, and 3,500 run away from home. So, know this — you (and your teenager) aren’t alone.
When you have a troubled teen, knowing how to help can make all the difference. We have five tips to help you open the lines of communication, guide your teen onto a better path, and help set your child on the road to a positive future.
Be Open, Be Calm
Teenagers read emotions differently than adults do. They process the information using their amygdala, which is the area of the brain that controls emotional reactions. Research suggests that teenagers often misinterpret the emotions on adults’ faces as angry, even when they’re not. It helps to understand this before you head into a charged conversation.
Remaining calm and compassionate can go a long way toward encouraging your teen to open up to you while minimizing the odds that the conflict will escalate. It doesn’t hurt to open up about some of the struggles that you faced as a teen. If it doesn’t come off like you’re comparing your situations, it can help you connect more deeply.
Get Some Support
You don’t have to go it alone. Having other parents on your side who are going through (or have been through) similar situations can help give you perspective and new ideas about how to cope. It’s also helpful to have other supportive adults involved in your child’s life to help your teen navigate their way through troubled times.
Setting your teen up to depend solely on you is a recipe for disaster. They’re trying to find their individuality and independence. That’s why having coaches, mentors, and teachers as part of your support network can be so impactful.
Teach Your Teen to Cope With Emotions
Teens are notorious for having emotions that are all over the map. Many emotions, including hurt, fear, embarrassment, and frustration can be masked by anger and lashing out. For troubled teens, this can become extreme and even dangerous. How can you and your teen cope with that anger before it becomes destructive?
- Talk it through: Try to understand what’s behind the anger with an open conversation free from judgment.
- Set firm boundaries and consequences: When you’re both calm, put rules and boundaries in place. Make sure your teen knows what will happen if they cross the line.
- Understand your teen’s triggers and warning signs: Work with your teen to try to identify triggers that make them angry — perhaps it’s a specific class or situation — and the warning signs that their emotions are about to get out of control.
- Establish healthy outlets: Exercise can be like magic, especially vigorous cardio (running, biking, team sports). Writing or creating art can be another way to express and diffuse anger.
Understand the Warning Signs
Some of the signs that your teen’s in trouble are clear. Acting out by engaging in risky behaviors like stealing and trying drugs or alcohol are all obvious warning signs. But there are other, more subtle things to watch out for too, including:
- Having difficulty functioning in daily life
- Skipping school and having other academic problems
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Losing interest in activities and people
Look for Professional Help
Even the most powerful superheroes need help saving the world. Seeking professional help for troubled teens can be a tough step for many parents, but it’s also one that can make a huge difference for your teen. Professionals have the experience and expertise needed to get to the root of the problem, discover what kinds of clinical help your child needs, and provide the support that you and your teen need.
Have you seen warning signs that your teen needs help? Turning Winds has a unique program for teens between the ages of 13 and 18 who are battling with behavioral problems, mental illness or substance abuse. Learn more about our life-changing, comprehensive program, or call us at (800) 845-1380 to speak with an admissions counselor.